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Public Institutions


Admission requirements

This course is for Master students of Public Administration only.


Institutions are at the center of political life. Political institutions, like government ministries and international organisations, formulate and implement public policies. And the economic policies and welfare state of a country can be understood as policy institutions.

What are institutions, and how are they different from other social phenomena? What effects do institutions have on the behaviour of public officials and other actors? How can institutions help overcome collective action problems? How do institutions change and when do they remain stable? And what are the implications for institutional design and reform? These are key issues in the study of public institutions.

The course will present and discuss different institutional theories that seek to answer these questions. It will apply these theories to the analysis of real-world cases from public administration, such as policies to address climate change or responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, or the relationship between ministers and bureaucrats. It will also discuss the implications of these theories for institutional design and reform to address contemporary societal challenges.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will:

  • have an understanding of the concept of institutions and an understanding of the varieties of institutional theory;

  • have an understanding of how institutions shape how public officials and public organisations deal with governance challenges;

  • understand and be able to apply multiple institutional theories to real-world issues;

  • be able to draw implications for institutional design and reform from institutional theories and communicate results in a way that is relevant to policymakers.


On the right-hand side of the programme front page of the Studyguide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of lectures, group work and self-study. Attendance during the lectures is compulsory.

Assessment method

  • Bi-weekly in-class exercises done in groups (30% of total grade).

  • Individual paper (70% of total grade).

Partial grades can be compensated across the assignments.
Partial grades both from previous years and from previous blocks in the same year can remain valid.

Reading list

The readings consist of academic articles and book chapters that can be accessed through the university library (most readings are available electronically). Readings will be announced on Brightspace.


Register yourself via MyStudymap for each course, workgroup and exam (not all courses have workgroups and/or exams).
Do so on time, before the start of the course; some courses and workgroups have limited spaces. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in.

Registration for this course is possible from Wednesday 13 December 13.00h

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.

More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.

Please note: guest-/contract-/exchange students do not register via MyStudymap but via uSis.


Dr. F. Bulfone
Dr. S. Diessner